Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley landed on injured reserve Tuesday, ending what can only be described as a disappointing season. In 11 games, he had just five sacks, one more than he had a season ago in 13 games. Since 2011, Woodley has missed 14 games due to various injuries, and that comes after a three-year stretch from 2008-10 where he averaged 11.7 sacks a season.
“He's been solid, not only this season but over the course of his career,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “But obviously, particularly in recent years, he's had to battle some injuries, unfortunately for him and for us.”
Now, two years after Woodley signed a six-year, $61.5 million deal, there's the very real possibility that the Steelers release him this offseason. Partly due to his exorbitant salary not matching his production, but also because Jason Worilds, a 2010 second-round pick, has dominated this season (60 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles).
Worilds, 25, is four years younger than Woodley, but he's also in the final year of his rookie deal. Which means that the Steelers will have to sign him in the offseason -- and that won't come cheap after his breakout performance -- before deciding to part ways with Woodley, who is scheduled to make $8 million, $8.5 million, and $9 million the next three seasons.
Whatever happens, it's in the organization's best interest to hold onto Woodley until June 1. If he's released before then, he would count $14 million against the 2014 salary cap. If he's released after June 1, his cap number drops to $5.6 million in 2014 and $8.5 million in 2015.
In all three years, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers would save both cap room and $25.5 million in salary -- but would also be without Woodley's services.
Which, frankly, won't be much different than recent seasons. And the team would still have Worilds (assuming he re-signs) and 2013 first-rounder Jarvis Jones, whom they remain high on despite an uneven rookie season.
Last offseason, the Steelers let cornerback Keenan Lewis walk without even offering him a contract. Now he's a starter in New Orleans. We'll know in the coming months if the organization will allow Worilds to follow Lewis out the door.